Video-on-demand services: How accessible are they?

With the increase in availability of on-demand access to TV shows and films, the way in which we watch TV is changing. How accessible is TV on-demand if you have a visual impairment? Find out as we review some of the most known video on-demand services, focusing on how accessible the apps and websites are and the provision of audio description (AD).

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer hosts all of the BBC’s programmes from all BBC channels, as well as online exclusives. BBC iPlayer can be accessed through its website and through smartphone and tablet apps.

The BBC is committed to accessibility for visually impaired people through the inclusion of audio described programmes, good contrast for buttons, keyboard access and screen reader support.

Screenshot of BBC iPlayer app showing Audio Described category

The website is very easy to navigate and use – it is very easy to find programmes, read programme information and use the media player. Audio described programmes can be accessed by selecting ‘categories’ on the iPlayer home page and then selecting ‘audio described’ or by selecting ‘go to audio described version’ when you land on a programme page from anywhere on iPlayer. The iPlayer website hosts audio described versions of all programmes that have audio description.

While the iPlayer app offers audio described content, this is more limited. Audio described content can only be watched through the app if the programme is selected from the ‘audio described’ category and in most instances, you can only watch audio described versions of the most recent programme in a series – there is no way to turn audio description on within the playback screen. Despite the lack of audio description, the app is very accessible and it is very easy to find the programme you want to watch and access features in the playback screen. It is also worth noting that you can watch BBC iPlayer content on a smartphone via the website so if you would prefer, you do not need to install the app. You can watch all audio described content on a smartphone despite the app’s limitations.

Unfortunately, while you can download non-audio described content to watch offline, it is not possible to download audio described programmes so if you want to watch audio described programmes, you need an Internet connection.

There are often instances in which box sets are made available on iPlayer but audio described versions of individual programmes are not available until the programme has been televised so there can be occasions when programmes are available but you have to wait weeks for the audio described version.

Despite these minor issues, the BBC’s provision of accessibility for visually impaired people is impressive and it is clear that the BBC are very committed to making their on-demand services accessible to all.

All 4

All 4 is the place to go to watch all of 4’s content, featuring the latest shows from Channel 4, More4 and E4 to hundreds of box sets of classic and new shows to exclusive originals. All 4 can be accessed through many platforms including via the website and through apps for all platforms including iOS and Android.

The All 4 app is accessible with screen readers making it easy to browse and search for programmes. The playback screen is also fully functional with a screen reader. Watching All 4 via the website is also accessible – the website can be accessed using a keyboard.

All 4 is very committed to the accessibility of its website and apps for visually impaired viewers. The All 4 website features help pages which detail using the All 4 website and apps with screen readers and the provision of audio description across all platforms.

Audio description is also available within the All 4 ap and when watching on the website, and unlike on BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, audio description is toggled on and off within the playback screen so programmes do not have to be located from within an Audio Described category.

Unfortunately it is not possible to enable audio description when watching downloaded programmes on iOS and it is not possible to enable audio description when using the app to stream All 4 content on your TV using a Chromecast.

Despite some minor inaccessibility issues, it is clear that 4 are very committed to accessibility for people with a visual impairment and ensuring that accessibility information on their website is up-to-date.

ITV Hub

ITV Hub is the home of ITV’s on-demand content, featuring the latest ITV shows, box sets and ITV Hub exclusives. The app and website are mostly accessible with screen readers.

It is easy to search for programmes, browse the different categories and access the ‘My ITV’ area of the app in which you can view your ‘last watched’ list. ITV say on their website that audio description is only available on Android, however as of June 2019, ITV Hub offer audio described content on their iOS app, but ITV Hub still do not offer audio described content on their website.

Screenshot of the ITV Hub app showing Audio Described category

Like on BBC iPlayer, the only way to access audio described content is by browsing the Audio Described category. However, if you select a programme with multiple episodes, all episodes in the list will be audio described, not just the most recent episode. If you have VoiceOver activated, when you launch the ITV Hub, it launches with the list of audio described programmes so you do not need to navigate through different screens to find it.

One minor accessibility issue is that buttons are not clearly labelled in the ITV Hub media player on the website so you may have to use trial and error to start the playback of a programme.

Overall, ITV Hub have gone a long way to make their on-demand services accessible, but there are still improvements which could be made. However, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives and you can get a lot out of ITV Hub as a visually impaired person.

Netflix

Netflix is a paid subscription-based service which allows you to watch a wide range of popular TV shows and movies, as well as an ever-increasing range of Netflix originals. Netflix is very committed to the accessibility of the website and apps – both the website and app are accessible with screen readers so you can browse categories, search for programmes and manage playback controls.

Netflix is very committed to ensuring accessibility of its shows for visually impaired customers, with audio description available on many Netflix originals and movies. Although there is a wide range of audio described content, there are limits – some TV shows which were distributed by other broadcasters with audio description do not have audio description when they are uploaded to Netflix.

If you have an iPhone and have the ‘audio descriptions’ setting enabled, the audio described version of a programme will play automatically if available. To enable this setting, go to the Settings app on your iPhone, and select General > Accessibility and then navigate to the ‘audio descriptions’ setting which is in the Media section of the Accessibility  Settings list.

Despite improvements that could be made, Netflix are committed to their visually impaired customers meaning that visually impaired people can watch and discuss the latest Netflix series with their sighted family and friends.

Prime Video

Prime video is similar to Netflix in that it is a subscription-based service which gives you access to popular TV shows and movies as well as Prime Video originals. Prime Video is part of Amazon Prime so if you are subscribed to Amazon Prime, you automatically have access to Prime video.

Amazon are committed to the accessibility of their programmes – they released their first audio described original in August 2018 and have been adding more audio described titles since. If a programme is audio described, it is clearly indicated in the programme summary meaning that you can clearly check if a programme is audio described before you start watching.

While it is accessible to use the website or the app to browse and search for programmes, it is recommended to use the app for watching programmes, especially those with audio description, as the playback screen is fully accessible and it is very easy to enable audio description. Unfortunately the playback screen on the website is not very accessible and it is not easy to enable audio description from the website.

Overall, Amazon are working hard to make their streaming service accessible to all and hopefully over time their provision of audio described content should increase.

So… get watching!

Most video-on-demand providers are constantly improving their services to make them as accessible as possible to visually impaired people across all platforms. While there are areas for improvement, there are plenty of options available for watching video-on-demand as a visually impaired person, whether you want to watch the latest drama, enjoy a classic movie or engage in a documentary. Having a visual impairment should not stop you enjoying television and having conversations with your sighted family and friends about all those programmes that everyone’s watching.

Henshaws offers a range of services to support you to watch TV and perform many other tasks with technology as a visually impaired person. You can find details about these services by visiting our Digital Enablement page or by calling us on 0300 222 5555.

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Alice
Alice
Alice is the Digital Communications Officer and is responsible for producing blogs and EBooks for Henshaws Knowledge Village.
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